The cajoling and threats that offshore havens have been dealing with from the start of 2009 and the recession of the world’s economy have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of jurisdictions that can be completely called offshore havens.
The offshore jurisdictions that Caribbean Land and Property has proposed for incorporation services are countries within the Caribbean which have thus far remained firm to their fundamental economic principles as far as the offshore sector is concerned.
At the G2o Meeting in April of this year as well as the Organization of American States Summit which took place in the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, offshore havens belonging to the OAS expressed their concerns about the way that countries with tax haven status were being dealt with and the drastic consequences that sanctions and termination of offshore activities would have on their economies and societies. It is however not the first time that offshore havens would have to fight for and defend their right to design tax regimes that benefit their economies.
With the OECD member states holding their batons over the heads of offshore havens and the consistent media coverage that the decisions taken, meetings held and growing network of tax treaties being signed, offshore representatives like ourselves are left with no choice but to continue informing our customers about changes occurring in different jurisdictions so that they are able to make the best decision when choosing an offshore haven for incorporating their offshore companies.
Offshore havens such as the Channel Islands which have shown up on the OECD’s ‘white list’ are classified by the OECD as transparent offshore jurisdictions. The OECD’s definition of ‘transparent’ jurisdictions basically refers to offshore havens which have agreed to release customer information on request.
Many of these jurisdictions have continued to provide increasingly new vehicles which can be used both offshore and onshore but with the only exceptions that corporate taxes may in some cases be imposed and tax information will be made readily available to tax authorities and, one may assume by extension, to the public, although specific details have not been given on the extent of the transparency granted by these jurisdictions.
Choosing to go offshore in these jurisdictions would mean simply wanting an offshore company or other vehicle for trade, business or other personal reasons and that privacy or paying taxes are not an issue. Incorporating in these countries also means weighing the benefits of being registered there against the disadvantages. At the end, it is the customer’s choice.
The example of white listed offshore havens shows that ‘offshore’ is not all bad as is being conveyed in the press. If offshore were entirely bad and wrong, then immediate actions would have been taken to put a stop to any form of offshore trade or product. Hence, the matter reverts to tax authorities laying claim on money and taxes they consider theirs.
On the other hand, there are also individuals who find themselves overwhelmed with serious financial matters and require that their affairs be handled discretely and they obtain the highest level of privacy they can possibly get. Here, the words ‘privacy’ and ‘discretion’ are used instead of ‘secrecy’ since it is often automatically understood to mean the need to hide something ‘bad’.
When choosing an offshore haven, there are five main characteristics that should be looked for: the haven’s respect for privacy, independence as a country, legislative provisions for offshore entities and low or zero taxes.
Respect for privacy
Earlier, it was mentioned that an increasing number of offshore havens have built a large network of tax information exchange treaties with lots of countries. If you are not bothered with the disclosure of your account information with the tax authorities in your country, then, privacy for you is a non issue. On the other hand, if you wish to obtain maximum privacy in dealing with your personal affairs, then you will have to ensure that the jurisdiction’s confidentiality laws are not compromised by any treaty. Privacy in a jurisdiction, however, does not mean that information will not be made available if the company or one of its members is being prosecuted by the court or is under investigation by law authorities as a suspect in illegal activity. Information, however, is not easily offered as the correct legal documentation must be produced before disclosure of details.
The argument that “you do not need privacy if you are not committing a crime” has absolutely ignored crimes such identity theft and the meaning of ‘personal affairs’ as opposed to ‘public matters’.
The BVI recently amended clauses regarding the issuance of bearer shares in its IBC Act due to the pressure received from the United Kingdom. The Cayman Islands, Anguilla, Bermuda and Turks and Caicos are all leading offshore havens and are still UK overseas territories. As a result of this, decisions taken by the EU or organizations such as the OECD are very likely to either positively or negatively affect these countries. Though they are given a fairly large amount of political flexibility and independence, the UK stills exerts a lot of influence and is very much capable of ‘stepping in’ and applying pressure whenever it wishes. Other crown dependencies like Guernsey, Isle of Man and Jersey are also subject to comply with the demands and pressures that are exerted by the UK and EU. One of the negative effects of their dependence on the UK was their subjection to the EU Tax Savings Directive which affected any EU nationals who incorporated offshore companies there even though they are not part of the EU.
Legislative provisions for offshore entities
Surely, you may want to ensure that the benefits said to be offered by the jurisdiction do not only exist by word of mouth but are truly enacted into law. Many offshore havens opted to consolidate their offshore laws thereby giving all companies, offshore and onshore, the same qualities and powers, with offshore companies being differentiated by not offering their services and products to the local public. You would also want to ensure that the offshore laws are up to date, comply with international rules and provide the type of protection and benefits that you require.
Low or zero taxes
If a country has no tax advantage, it cannot be considered a tax haven. You should at least be able to minimize your tax burden provided that the tax rates are lower than those of your home country.
Safety and Security
No one would like to incorporate in a country which is notorious for war or social unrest, scarred by constant coups or infamous political policies and poor economy. You would want to ensure that the jurisdiction you choose for incorporating makes your company credible and is able to produce the anticipated advantage of going offshore.
(c) Caribbean Land and Property July 2009